(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies
The Spurs, after getting off to a 70 win pace, have come down to earth and have been somewhat exposed. The Spurs rely heavily on three point shooting, and Tim Duncan is no longer a dominant post threat. The Grizz, it was speculated on, intentionally “tanked” to grab the 8th seed and face their best perceived matchup with San Antonio. The Spurs lack size, and the Grizz boast one of the best front lines in basketball, that alone will make this series interesting, but not enough for an upset. Spurs in six.
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Denver Nuggets
After trading away Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets actually improved. The clear cut deepest team in the NBA can roll 10 deep, and have many dynamic near stars in the making. OKC made a splash of their own, adding Boston tough guy Kendrick Perkins, and perennial effective big, Nazr Mohammed. This series has potential for being epic. Both teams can score, and both teams are underrated defensively. Both are capable of the game breaking 15-2 run, and both have lightning quick point guards that can push the pace. This series goes the distance. OKC in seven.
(3) Dallas Mavericks vs. (6) Portland Trailblazers
The Mavs started hot and then were pronounced dead early on when Caron Butler was lost for the year. The Blazers weathered a rash of injuries early including the obligatory Oden out for the year injury and a threat to Brandon Roy’s career. After adding Gerald Wallace at the deadline, the Blazers now boast the finest wing combination outside of that team in Miami. With Batum, Matthews, Wallace, Fernandez, Roy, you have a relentless stream of wing players to throw at a team. Then you get to Lamarcus Aldridge, and you can’t find a better “true” power forward in the game today. Dirk will not be enough. Trailblazers in six.
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets got off to a great start this season. And their identity has been that of a team that can play suffocating defense, plot their way offensively with Chris Paul and David West while getting key contributions from their bench. Losing West for the year a few weeks back sealed this team’s fate. The Lakers were powering toward the playoffs till they hit a 5-game skid while playing uneven basketball. Bynum seems to be okay for this series. This one gets ugly. Lakers in five.
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Indiana Pacers
The Bulls, with the league’s MVP, play a scrappy, lengthy and dangerous Pacers team. But they are only dangerous in the context of individual regular season games. In my opinion, this series is not the beatdown everybody expects. The Pacers can score in bunches and do have the length to compete with the Bulls down low. I expect this to be a tightly contested series, but in the end it will be lopsided in what matters; series wins. Bulls in five.
(4) Orlando Magic vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks dominated the Magic in the regular season to the tune of a 3-1 series win, and Dwight Howard had alot of trouble with Jason Collins, who will be ready for this series. The Hawks are limping into the playoffs losing 6 straight, but that gets erased with the tipoff of the first round. The Hawks have exploited a perimeter advantage over Orlando and have played with an edge all year against them, after being beaten in one of the most lopsided series results ever, last postseason, by the Magic. I feel as if this will correct itself, and Howard will reverse his fortunes. Magic in seven.
(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) New York Knicks
The most anticipated first round series this year, the Knicks bring alot of star power and the Celtics bring recent history, personalities, into this one. It is a clash of styles, with a team trying to push the pace, focusing their attack through two players, while the other relies on execution and their defensive posture. This series will be in doubt, but experience will not be a factor. Amare Stoudemire has plenty of playoff experience and is a clutch performer as a big. Chauncey Billups is a former champion and Finals MVP. Carmelo Anthony is actually the least proven of the bunch. So who wins? The team that plays defense. This one will be in doubt, but it goes to the gang in green. Celtics in six.
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Philadelphia 76ers
The time is here, and some say that this matchup is a letdown. I feel as if the Sixers can push the Heat within each game, and that will prepare the Heat for the next round. In Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, I believe the Sixers have the best point guard combination not boasting an all-star. With Andre Igoudala, the Sixers have one of the most versatile forwards and one of the few that can defend Lebron James competently. Dwyane Wade has had his way with the Sixers averaging in excess of 30 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks. The Heat’s defense and length should overwhelm the Sixers, Philly comes in kinda injured, and the Heat should exploit that. Heat in five.